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Dealing with the Impact of the Economic Downturn


07Dec 2008

Almost all of us in the United States are now starting to personally experience some aspect of the global and national economic crisis.  Whether it is through a personal or family job loss, friends and extended family members who have been laid off, a slow down in your business, or projected reduced sales for next year — the impact is now personal.  This is different than hearing it on the news or reading statistics in a publication.

I resent the frenzy and panic the media seems to want to whip up, because this type of communication doesn’t help anyone.  We need to deal with the realities of life (like Jim Collins encourages businesses to do in Good to Great), but let’s do so in a healthy manner.

So let’s talk about the thought patterns that will help us cope with the challenges and stressors we are (or will be) facing — and how to keep our mental health and hope.

  • Shorten your time frame.  Regardless of the challenging issue a family, individual or business faces, one of the key aspects for managing the crisis is to keep a short time frame in mind.  Deal with what you have to today or this week.  Do not spend a lot of time thinking about (or worrying about) six months from now, or next year — largely because there are so many factors that can change between now and then, you really can’t plan that far in advance.
  • Manage your cash flow.  Almost every business or family I know that has gone under financially later reports that they wish they would have made changes (e.g. “cut back”) sooner.  So it would be wise to complete an budget review, especially of unnecessary expenses, and make appropriate adjustments — this should probably include projections for income over the coming months, as this might change as well.
  • Adjust your expectations.  Life’s circumstances throws us changes.  What was true six months ago for us as a country, in your business, or your family is different now.  Therefore, the goals, desires or plans you had then for the future may not fit now.  Rigidly holding onto beliefs and expectations from the past will probably create undue stress.  What is going on now may not be “fair”, but it is what it is.
  • Explore options you have previously ruled out.  Many times we exclude certain options because they aren’t acceptable given the current circumstances.    But when circumstances change, previously unacceptable options may need to be reconsidered (e.g. a teenager being willing to work at part-time at a restaurant; doing tasks yourself and working later in the evening or on weekends).
  • Maintain an attitude of appreciation.   We all can probably find something to complain about.  And there are lots of people and decisions who are prime targets for criticism.  But what does that really gain (except for a brief time of tension release)?  So instead of adding to the negative conversations out there, first start with remembering the things that are good in your life — and then add these to conversations.  [We had a beautiful sunrise this morning.  I appreciate having a warm house when it is cold outside.  I am thankful I have reliable transportation to get to work — and that I don’t have to commute 60+ minutes one way.]
  • Keep connected socially. When people go through difficult times, one means of coping with the stress is to withdraw socially.  Generally, this is not a good long-term strategy.  Yes, we need time to ourselves and time to think things through.  But to pull back from positive, supportive relationships puts us at risk for becoming isolated, cuts us off from available resources, and we can start to get weird (we need the reality check of conversations with friends to keep our thinking straight).

I appreciate the comments of Jack DeBoer, a local successful businessman who spoke recently and said:  “You can go out and talk to people today and tell them how tough things are, how it’s tougher now, and how much tougher it’s going to get. . . Or you can go out and figure out what to do in this environment.”

I am not a major history buff, but it seems to me that a lot of people survived the Great Depression, and almost always there are opportunities to be successful in difficult times.

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